I — like a number of people, I expect — approached this one with a sense of trepidation and a laundry list of questions: No Verity? We’ve got to start over with some other guy? Why? What did we do wrong? Why is Seanan punishing us like this? How are we supposed to get along without the Aeslin mice? (good news and minor spoiler: Alex has his own colony of them — Seanan doesn’t hate us). After about 50-60 pages, I’d admitted that McGuire knew what she was doing (how could I doubt that?) and that Half-Off Ragnarok served as a good jumping-on point for the series, or good next entry for those who’d been following it already. Alex has a similar voice to Verity, but it is different — close enough that they could be siblings, though.
The story, particularly its central mystery, was just okay. But the setting and the characters elevated the whole thing. They sold me on what was going on, and once the narrative got flowing, I didn’t notice how not-stellar the story was (I’m not saying it was bad, it just didn’t knock me out). Having a cryptozoologist working in a zoo — and doing field research nearby, gave this a different feel from Verity’s nightclubs and sewers — like maybe there was something less haphazard about it this endeavor.
But more than anything else, the characters are what sell this story. There’s Alex’s Gorgon assistant, Dee; a little girl I won’t describe for your sakes here (you want to discover her eccentricity on your own); there’s Alex’s grandparents; his pet griffin, Crow; the aforementioned Aeslin mice; and the knock-out blonde Australian who works at the same zoo that he does. Best of all, his and Verity’s cousin, Sarah. She’s staying at their grandparent’s home for awhile to recover from what happened to her at the end of Midnight Blue-Light Special — well, hopefully recover, anyway. Sarah’s presence helps link the installments of the series together, helps us trust Alex more right away for the way her treats her.
A couple of notes about this world McGuire’s building here. Without getting into details, it was very nice to see that there are options other than the Prices and the Covenant for humans who are aware of the cryptozoological populations, it makes it all a little less David and Goliath. The other thing that’s highlighted here is just how different groups/species view the Prices. Which isn’t exactly all positive — there’s suspicion, distrust, antagonism, begrudging respect — along with more positive views. I got that impression during the Verity books, but it’s underlined here. This is a fun world, and it’s nice to see it fleshed out.
I like Alex, and would gladly read more of his adventures–at home or abroad. I would also like to check in on Verity again — and soon — as she was our entry point into this world, but it’s possible I like Alex more at the end of the day. Unlike Verity, he’s all in when it comes to this work, and doesn’t spend so much time wanting to do something else. Although, Verity’s conflict between her duty/interest in cryptozoology and love for dance is one of the things that makes her interesting. Never mind, my guess is that my favorite Price sibling is whichever one I’m reading/just finished reading. Just give me more of both of them.